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College of Western Idaho should sell Boise land, consolidate its Nampa campus

The College of Western Idaho should sell the 10-acre parcel it owns in Boise’s West End and consolidate its campus on the land it already owns in Nampa.

Let’s say the college could get $10 million or $15 million for it (it should be worth more now that the area is targeted for a ballpark), college officials could pair that with the $10 million the state Legislature promised in 2018 for a proposed health sciences building and maybe cobble together another $10 million from a capital campaign and an increase in student fees.

If the college could piece together, say, $30 million, it could build a lot of office and classroom space at its Nampa campus. The college could close most if not all of its satellite buildings in Ada County and get out of expensive leases.

I don’t quite buy the argument that CWI needs to have a shiny new campus in Boise or that it even has to have a presence in Ada County at all. The CWI Nampa campus is just a stone’s throw over the border with Ada County, and it’s pretty conveniently located near the interstate. It even has a bus line serving the campus. Asking students to go to the Nampa campus is not too much to ask. Students from Canyon County commute to Boise State University all the time.

I also don’t buy the argument that if CWI were to shut down its Ada County locations, fewer students from Ada County would attend. Perhaps it would be a hindrance to some, but when CWI is struggling to keep up with growth, slowing down enrollment wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I also think Ada County voters are much more supportive of the College of Western Idaho and don’t necessarily need a presence in Ada County to support the college.

Battered by voters over the past couple of years, the College of Western Idaho is hitting the pause button on how to proceed with building new buildings.

Craig Brown, executive vice president of operations for CWI, told trustees this week that he’s putting together a history of “how we got here.”

Recognizing that there are new board members as well as several new faces on the college’s administrative staff, Brown said the college is at a critical juncture in its history, with a continuing need for space to accommodate the fast-growing student body and burgeoning program offerings.

And before moving forward, Brown hopes to look back to see how CWI arrived at certain decisions, such as focusing on health sciences for expansion or leasing space in the Black Eagle office complex in Boise.

Voters in Ada and Canyon counties created, by vote, the community college in 2007, and the college quickly grew over the next 10 years to where it is today at about 19,000 for-credit students and 12,000 noncredit students.

Classes are held on the main campus north of the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa and in a hodgepodge of office parks scattered throughout Ada and Canyon counties.

In 2015, CWI purchased a 10-acre lot in Boise’s West End for $8.8 million. In 2016, CWI asked voters for a $180 million bond to build a health science building and a student center in Nampa, plus a new campus on that 10-acre lot in Boise’s West End. That bond failed. In 2018, CWI went to the voters again, asking them to pay for just the health sciences building with a levy, which still would have cost $47 million. The levy fell just 135 votes short.

Then, over the summer, college officials began shopping a couple of alternative plans either to go back to voters, get the money from raising tuition and fees or just remodel existing space with less money.

Apparently, those proposals aren’t happening, so it looks like it’s back to the drawing board.

If this all seems scattershot, it’s because it is, and it’s kind of the way CWI has operated.

The 10-acre lot was purchased without an advance appraisal or even looking at the assessment. The $180 million bond was far-fetched, and the follow-up $47 million levy was a lackluster attempt to win voters over.

So I think a strategy for a pause and a look back is a good idea.

In some ways, you can’t blame college officials. When you go from 0 to 31,000 students in less than a decade, managing that growth inevitably would be a challenge.

And Brown acknowledges that because of the growth, the college at times manages “out of crises.”

He’s hoping to give a special presentation to board members during a work session after the board’s regular meeting on Oct. 15.

From there, trustees should have a good grounding on how to move forward.

Scott McIntosh is the Opinion editor of the Idaho Statesman. You can email him at smcintosh@idahostatesman.com or call him at 208-377-6202. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcIntosh12.

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This column shares the personal opinions of Idaho Statesman opinion editor Scott McIntosh on current issues in the Treasure Valley, in Idaho and nationally. It represents one person’s opinion and is intended to spur a conversation and solicit others’ opinions. It is intended to be part of an ongoing civil discussion with the ultimate goal of providing solutions to community problems and making this a better place to live, work and play. Readers are encouraged to express their thoughts by submitting a letter to the editor. Click on “Submit a letter or opinion” at idahostatesman.com/opinion.

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Always full of opinions and tolerant of others, Scott McIntosh is the opinions editor for the Idaho Statesman. He has won dozens of state and national awards, including Best Editorial from the Idaho Press Club for 2017.
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